Before Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s books entered the consciousness of readers who love edgy, strong women, there was V.I. Warshawski. I still fondly remember reading Sara Paretsky’s first novel with this hardboiled female P.I. It was love at first reading for me with both the author and character. V.I. was tough, sassy and wore high heels. I was driven to read through to the finish, to find out how Paretsky would handle a private eye who has to pack a gun, face physical danger, stand up to hard men and survive it all. In creating V.I., she launched a character who has inspired many debates and discussions among readers.
Paretsky never shies away from serious issues, justice, or the social fabric of our lives, as evidenced by BODY WORK, the 14th book in her series. The story opens with Nadia dying in V.I.’s arms in the parking lot of the trendy Club Gouge. Her last words were “Allie, Allie.”
Petra, V.I.’s young cousin (first introduced in HARDBALL), is working at the club, and Karen Buckley (aka the Body Artist) is a performer there. The show involves members of the audience coming on the stage and painting the nude body of the Body Artist. The audience is packed and lively, and includes an off-duty cop, Ukrainian mobsters and a group of Iraq war vets. The Body Artist’s performance is controversial. When Nadia Guaman paints a design on Karen’s back, another patron, a young man named Chad Vishneski, becomes very upset. Two nights later, Nadia is dead, and Chad, an Iraq war vet suffering from PTSD, seems like the logical suspect.
Chad’s estranged parents hire V.I. to clear his name. All is not what it seems. As V.I. searches for the truth, she is drawn into a troubled soldier’s life. Why would Chad have pulled the trigger? Is there a connection between Nadia and Chad that is not apparent, or between Nadia and Karen? V.I. finds out that as Nadia was dying, she was calling out her sister’s name --- Allie --- who is in Iraq. Did Chad and Allie meet there? V.I. digs deeper into the past of everyone associated with Club Gouge, including a Chicago company that supplies the military, the owner of the club, the Ukrainian mobsters and Nadia’s family. The twists and tangles of this story will keep you reading right up until the end to learn how all of these characters intertwine in this captivating and enthralling plot.
As usual, there is the recognizable cast of interesting characters sprinkled throughout the mystery: Lotty Herschel, Max Lowenthal, Mr. Contreras and the dogs. The familiar Chicago setting retains its integral place in a V.I. story, including the coffee joints and the cold, windy weather.
Paretsky’s belief in a code of ethics and values for her character continues to be an important issue for her audience. When V.I. finds herself in dangerous, tight spots, the one question readers can’t help but ask is how she will get herself out of this one --- with her honor intact and the mystery solved. BODY WORK is another wonderful example of why Paretsky’s protagonist keeps me coming back for the next book.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on December 22, 2010